In his writings, Zane Grey was rather straightforward. As the reader, you normally could expect that his main character would be a man running from a negative past. Before you finished the book, the reasonably dashing man would have righted a few wrongs, stolen the heart of a girl that suffered great anguish and eventually prospered in the spectacular landscape of the West.
Zane Grey, on the other had, was much more complex. He was born on January 31, 1872 in Zanesville, Ohio to a domineering father who was a dentist and a mother that followed the traditions of the time. Zane Grey’s christened name was Pearl Zane Gray (not Grey). Since he did not like his name he changed it as a young adult to Zane Grey.
Grey’s Early Years
As a teen, Grey enjoyed being a boy and relished any opportunity to partake in the game of baseball. His leisure time was spent with his brother fishing or following the fun of hobbies. His father believed that Zane should be more focused and should not waste his time in youthful folly.
When the time came for the young man to seek a profession his father directed him towards dentistry. While attending the University of Pennsylvania on a baseball scholarship, Zane wrestled with the realization that he was destined to do as his father directed instead of following his passion of a baseball career.
Zane graduated in 1896 and opened a dental practice in New York City. Overall he was not a dedicated master of his profession and routinely took off to fish in the upper Delaware River. And he would play baseball at the drop of a hat.
Grey had a secret desire to be a writer. His first documented attempt was his fishing story in the journal Recreation in 1902. Though not formally trained, Grey felt he had a family history that would make a great novel.
His First Novel
His first novel was based on one person. Betty Zane, a family matriarch, was heralded as the person that saved the fledgling frontier settlement of Fort Henry in 1782. She was credited with dashing through a barrage of bullets and saving the day by bringing a tablecloth of dry gun powder to the troops repelling the British and the Indians. Zanesville Ohio was name after her family.
Published in 1903, “Betty Zane” was not a literary success. Not to be deterred, Grey wrote two more novels, “The Spirit of the Border” (1906) and “The Last Trail” (1907). The trilogy, as the are called, had a writing style of James Fenimore Cooper. Collectively Grey was a failing author.
Zane was successful in one very important area. He courted and married Lina Roth in 1905. Lina, whom Zane lovingly called Dolly, became his proofreader and motivator. She financed Grey’s early career. Without her he likely would not have followed his dream to become a successful writer. They had three children: Romer, Betty and Loren. The bulk of the parenting fell to Dolly because Grey was usually away researching in the West, on a fishing boat or waist-high in a cold water river angling for another record.
His Times Out West
A major turning point for Grey was an opportunity to experience the real west – the West of the last pioneers, the cowboys and the fortune hunters. In 1907 he headed for Northern Arizona to join an expedition with Charles Jesse “Buffalo” Jones to literally rope mountain lions. Of course, the trip became the basis for a book; “The Last of the Plainsman”.
His trip to Arizona became an epiphany for Grey. He saw, firsthand, the freshness of wide-open spaces and stars by the billions. Zane heard the silence of fresh snow, smelled the dew on the high desert and met men who could be trusted and immediately respected. He was immersed in the “code of the west”.
“The Heritage of the Desert” (1910) was Zane’s first big success. It followed a time honored script of a man that is weak, sickly or in need to physical growth who comes out west. The heroine is rescued, the villain is vanquished and everything is set straight by the closing paragraph on the last page.
Movies Made from Grey’s Books
Primarily, Zane Grey was a writer of romance novels. He did write many books for boys. Nineteen of his westerns are set in the twentieth century. Grey has almost ninety books in print. Sixty are westerns, nine concern fishing and his world record fresh and salt water catches, three trace his roots and the Zanes of Ohio, and the others center on juvenile fiction, baseball stories and a biography of George Washington in his youth. There are books dealing with his anti-war sentiment (World War I), and recollections of an Arizona hunting trip and excursions written in the first person. In addition, short stories for magazines were written. Over 130 films have been produced based on Zane Grey books.
Zane’s Time in Rim Country
For a number of years Grey had a cozy cabin near Tonto Creek where he used to sit on his front porch and write. The lasting impressions of the charm, beauty and mystique of the Rim area, as well as some of our earlier residents, will live on in his books.
Scholars agree that twenty four books by Zane Grey were written with Arizona as the primary setting. Of the twenty four, fourteen are set above or below the Mogollon Rim. Over a third of Zane’s Arizona based novels use the general area from Oak Creek Canyon to the Pleasant Valley in Young, Arizona.
Zane Grey passed away on October 23, 1939, in Altadena, California of heart failure. He will always be missed.
You might also want to read: